The DIVAS – Making services more inclusive

3 May 2023

Safer Cornwall is working with partners across the South West Peninsula to extend support and improve access and inclusivity for people with learning disabilities affected by domestic abuse and/or sexual abuse/violence (DASV).

Together, we have commissioned The Women’s Centre Cornwall to extend the DIVAS project.

The current system of support for domestic abuse and sexual abuse/violence (DASV) fails to reach certain groups of victims and survivors including those with learning disabilities. The system is fragmented and confusing for those seeking help.

“I was really scared by what my father did to me and when I told my mom she didn’t believe me. It was awful because she was horrible after that and I felt really scared living at home. I didn’t know who else to tell. I felt embarrassed and couldn’t tell anyone else.”


We want our services to be as inclusive as possible and the DIVAS project works to recognise and eliminate the barriers to accessing services for people with learning disabilities who are victims and survivors of domestic abuse and/or sexual abuse/ sexual violence (DASV).

Extending support across the South West

The EOS Partnership (EOS) is a group of lead DASV commissioners from Cornwall Council, Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council, who alongside commissioners from the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) and NHS Devon, work together across the Southwest peninsula to respond to opportunities for joint commissioning and improving the response to DASV across the region.

EOS recognises that despite best efforts, only a fraction of victims and survivors of domestic abuse who have a learning disability are supported. To address this need, they put out a tender for a partnership facilitator to help provide more inclusive DASV support for people with learning disabilities across the South West peninsula. In January, this commission was awarded to The Women’s Centre and the programme will run until December 2023.

The Women’s Centre’s community engagement project began in 2017 and recognised that women with learning disabilities (learning difficulties and autism) were significantly under-represented among those accessing support, despite these women being very disproportionately victimised (ONS, 2022).

“My boyfriend kept telling me that if I didn’t buy him lots of presents (phones, clothes, watches) he would go with another girl. I loved him but he often forced me to do sexual things that I didn’t want to do. He told me I was ugly and stupid and that no one else would want me. I loved him and wanted to please him. But I got into a lot of debt and was chased by debt collectors . I got very scared and wanted to die. I called an old friend (support worker) and she came to help me.”


The project reached out to support services for people with learning disabilities, residential settings for disabled people, and other agencies who they understood would be interacting with women with learning disabilities in Cornwall. Through that process they formed a peer support and peer educator group of women with learning disabilities, learning difficulties and autism who are survivors of domestic and/or sexual abuse: The DIVAS.

Watch this short film to find out more about the DIVAS.

The group is active both locally and nationally providing training and consultation for a variety of groups.

Dina Holder is the Community Engagement Manager at The Women’s Centre who initiated the Learning Disability/Autism (DIVAS) project and who, with the DIVAS, will be leading the development work to enable agencies to work more closely together to ensure people with learning disabilities are better able to access DASV services.

ARC ( will be supporting the programme, specifically working with men with learning disabilities.

Get in touch

Do you have any learning to share or have you faced challenges in supporting those with learning disabilities experiencing domestic abuse and/or sexual abuse/violence? If so, Dina would like to speak with you and can be contacted via email: [email protected]

Are you or any organisations you know supporting men with learning disabilities / autism who have experienced domestic abuse and/or sexual abuse/violence? Are there any services that male victims/survivors of DASV can access? Or do you know what is needed is they were NOT able to access any services? Please contact Rod Landman at ARC via email: [email protected]

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